“Praise the Unburied” Clara Burghelea (Chaffinch Press) – book review

Clara Burghelea Praise the Unburied book cover

“Praise the Unburied” is Clara Burgelea’s second poetry collection and explores the expectations and failures of motherhood, both as daughter and mother, exile and loss and absence. In “My therapist asks me to write down ten things my mother loved”, where nechezol is a coffee substitute, Scânteia was a Romanian newspaper,

“To drink real coffee, never nechezol, in pretty
cups held by manicured ladylike hands.

To call us balls of fluff, then huddle together,
never looking the rusty radiator in the eye.

To read good books, wrapped in Scânteia,
on the bus, third shifting to her dusty lab beakers.

To smell our sickly-sweet sleep smell off our napes
call us sweaty chickens for eighteen summers in a row.”

It recalls small pleasures such as drinking proper coffee from a cup rather than a regular mug, cuddling children and watching them sleep. But also self-care: a manicure requires time, “pretty cups” suggests a special occasion. It’s not clear whether the newspaper is to protect frequently-read books or to conceal what was being read, but whichever it is, they represent a brief escape from the drudgery of the lab. There’s also the contrast in smelling the children while asleep and the sweaty time-bandits of awake children. For the children, life wasn’t without problems: the radiator, a mother working a third shift, but she cared and the children knew they were loved.

Long-term love is looked at in “The twenty-year marriage” which observes, “Two hearts can ram each other and have desire stir/ desire before all gale descends into a mighty calm.” That intensity of initial romance has become quieter and turned into an enduring love.

Exile is explored in e.g. “Complicities”,

“The other day, I found your slender book of poems
on a back shelf in The Strand where the ever-smiling
employee took me when I asked for Romanian authors.
I recognized your way of exploring the second language,
domesticating its feral roots. I saw my own struggle
at mastering it. The way language fakes our many deaths,
the right to parade the best scars. It was a kind of love,
I guess, your pain trailing down my hands. On a good day,
I hide down the aisles and let the smell of foreign words
soak up my nostrils before I return to the empty apartment.
Between the snowed-up streets and I, wound as a mound.”

The poet recognises a fellow Romanian learning to express themselves in English, the same way she had to. Their mother tongue not entirely left behind, but forming a complex relationship. It brings memories of why it was necessary to leave along with memories of being loved as a child. Speaking it is instinctive, yet, in a new home in America, it has to be shelved and replaced with English. Yet seeing and recogising someone else’s struggles to learn English is a reminder of what was left behind and it brings a sense of connection, even though the speaker returns to an empty apartment.

The last poem explores change and consistency, “Some things will end for sure”,

“things will sunder in dust and ash, the
blazing eyes of hurt will find fissures

and occupy them, germinating more
grief and then, could we word build

ourselves anew? This love, a contagion,
yet all we ever knew, will stand still.”

Inhabiting language offers chance to reinvent ourselves, despite the struggles and losses life brings. It’s possible because of the need for love and connection.

Although “Praise the Unburied” is split into parts, themes, particularly those of motherhood and a human need to connect, emerge throughout. Clara Burghelea writes with a quiet confidence, giving the readers space to draw their own conclusions. There’s a restraint and a respect for language, the sounds of words and a balance between movement and pause to allow time to think and absorb. She creates poems that reward re-reading.

“Praise the Unburied” is available via Chaffinch Press.


Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

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